When Kaiser Permanente member Quyen Nguyen went to the San Jose Medical Center with chest discomfort and a rapid heart rate during one evening in February, she did not expect to be admitted and diagnosed with a heart attack.
Nguyen, 56, said she has never had any serious health issues or been hospitalized before. An optometrist with her own practice, Nguyen said she works a lot in addition to taking care of her 3 children and elderly parents. She said that the focus on her own health fell by the wayside, especially after the pandemic began in 2020.
“I used to exercise with my family at a gym, but we stopped once the pandemic hit,” Nguyen said. “Being hospitalized just a few days before my 56th birthday was a shock. But my care team made me feel relaxed and comfortable.”
Treated like family
Nguyen’s tests at the Emergency Department showed that she had a type 2 myocardial infarction, meaning that although there was no significant blockage in her arteries, there was an imbalance between her heart’s demand and supply of oxygen, according to her cardiologist Valerie Kwai Ben, MD.
“Quyen came in with a fast heart rate, and she had, technically speaking, a heart attack,” Dr. Kwai Ben said. “She told me that she loves meat and pork. So, this became an opportunity to help reevaluate her approach to her own health.”
Nguyen said she felt inspired to pursue a healthier lifestyle because of the great care she received as well as how many detailed explanations of her health problem were given to her by her nurses, doctors, and the rest of her care team. She specifically thanked Dr. Kwai Ben for her thoroughness and attentiveness, as well as her nurse Ha Yen Luong, RN, who she said treated her like a family member, checking up on her even after her shift was over.
“Kaiser Permanente has been good in getting me to take care of my health and consistently reminding me about the available preventive care,” Nguyen said. “Ha Yen made sure I was comfortable and reassured me that I will be okay. Dr. Kwai Ben was very friendly and helpful as well.”
Using a comprehensive, team-based approach, Kaiser Permanente Northern California is outpacing the nation in cardiovascular care. Death rates from heart disease, for example, are lower and dropping faster for Kaiser Permanente members in Northern California than in the rest of the United States, according to research. Heart disease death rates among adults aged 45 to 65 fell by 48.3% in 3.2 million Kaiser Permanente members from 2000 to 2015, compared to a 23.6% decline nationwide
Motivated to change
Both Luong and Dr. Kwai Ben spent time drawing illustrations of Nguyen’s heart, so that she could understand in depth what was happening to her body.
“Normally, when a patient comes to me, the word heart attack is very difficult to hear, if you’re not familiar with how it works,” Luong said.
At one point during her care, Nguyen wasn’t sure she needed to take one of the tests, a cardiac catheterization, during which a catheter is inserted into the heart arteries to evaluate for blockages.
Luong and Dr. Kwai Ben explained why this diagnostic procedure was important for her, convincing her to have the test done. As a result, the procedure showed that Nguyen had a calcification buildup in her coronary artery that didn’t require a stent but needed to be treated with several different medications to help control her cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
“I like to make sure I treat each one of my patients as a person, and it’s important for me to explain to my patients their condition in a way that they’re able to comprehend,” Dr. Kwai Ben said. “The heart is complicated but when you draw things in simplistic diagrams, it’s much easier to understand.”
Those demonstrations are what made Nguyen realize that she needs to reevaluate her lifestyle.
“Everyone was very supportive and had this passion for what they do. It’s not just a job for them,” Nguyen said. “That’s how I would like to treat my own patients.”
Nguyen has changed her diet to be more plant-based, as Dr. Kwai Ben and the rest of her care team encouraged her to do. She also exercises every evening for at least an hour.
“I can’t take care of my family and my patients if I don’t take care of myself, so it’s now a big priority of mine,” Nguyen said.
“I am very thankful to the entire team at Kaiser Permanente,” Nguyen wrote in a thank you letter.